Lorcan Byrne

Written by Lorcan Byrne, edited by Giulia Quarantani (University of Leeds intern) and Kenny McDonald (Project Trust).

Group of students in graduation dress
Lorcan (pictured right) and coursemates graduating from the University of Leeds.


Lorcan Byrne’s volunteering experience with educational charity Project Trust, followed by his Thai Studies BA Course at the University of Leeds, sparked an appetite for new adventures and experiences. And with no sign of that hunger diminishing, Lorcan explains more about some of the reasons why…

Not many people I knew in Ireland took a gap year at the time, and as an impressionable wide-eyed 18-year-old I was fascinated by the chance to do something completely different. The opportunity to step way outside my comfort zone, learn about a different way of life, and contribute to a new community by volunteering with Project Trust in 2009/2010 was really exciting.

I was teaching English to students ranging from 14 - 25 years old, meaning a number of my students were older than me! Classes promoted conversational English in a rural part of the country where English proficiency was quite low, meaning that I had to be creative to bridge that divide and generate enthusiasm for my class. This ranged from bringing in fruit and vegetables from the market to utilising my massive Irish St. Patrick’s Day top hat.

Having been immersed in a local community with no fluent English speakers for 12 months with Project Trust, I’d had huge opportunity to make progress in speaking Thai. Everyone was so supportive and helpful in learning the language – people’s faces would light up when I began a conversation with them in Thai. You really cannot beat living in a country day in day out to improve your language skills. This gave me a huge head start when the University of Leeds Thai Studies Course began.

My challenge was learning the written language, and for this the course at Leeds was excellent as we had a teacher student ratio of 5:1, meaning I had lots of support and feedback throughout my learning. Given we had such a small group, the tutors really went the extra mile for us all and the course felt like a little family.

Pushing Boundaries

My experience with Project Trust completely changed the trajectory of my life. I was due to study Psychology back in Dublin after my year out. However, having fallen in love with Thailand I heard of the opportunity to do a joint honours degree at University of Leeds studying International Development and Thai Studies. This combination allowed me to learn more about Thailand and return there on a study abroad year, while also teaching me about the wider context of development globally. It was a time when decisions were taken by following my heart and my passion. I’ve never looked back.

The world is a brilliantly colourful, friendly and interesting place. At 18, in those formative years, Thailand stole a piece of my heart and showed me that with the right attitude there are no barriers and differences between people that can’t be overcome. Project Trust and University of Leeds were the cornerstones that enabled me to have these amazing experiences. I have learnt the value of having an open mind, understanding the perspectives of people different to me, admiring those who work to achieve positive social change, and to feel inspired to contribute too.

From my first job after my degree working for Project Trust on the Isle of Coll in the Scottish Hebrides (population, 200 people) to volunteering in Nepal, to working for a social integration charity in London, to quitting my job and cycling in Africa, it has all come from a willingness to try things that Thailand taught me. It is safe to say that my experiences with Project Trust and University of Leeds have paved the way for a weird and wonderful life since.

I am currently a project manager working for the Civil Aviation Authority in Wellington, New Zealand where I have lived for nearly two years. While I will certainly return home, my desire for new adventures and expericenes doesn’t seem to be fading just yet.

Global Learning

It might not come as a surprise to discover that I absolutely recommend University of Leeds Thai Studies to anyone. It opens the doorway to a new world, rich in culture, and with dedicated staff who truly love what they teach. The option of a joint honours allows you to pursue more than one burning passion whilst still delving into the niche and exciting world of Thailand.

Despite it being nearly 13 years ago (deary me!), I remember my trip from Dublin to the Scottish Isle of Coll to attend Project Trust’s Selection Course so clearly. I was inspired by the passion, enthusiasm, and support of the staff there and meeting other like minded volunteers gave me so much energy. It was like riding a wave. That feeling of riding a wave coupled with 12 full months immersed in a new community is a unique experience that, for me, was unparralleled. I sometimes think of Project Trust less as a unique eduational charity, and more as a state of mind – to open your eyes to the opportunities in the world and be willing to give anything a try.

Find out more about Thai Studies at Leeds.

Project Trust supports young people aged 17-25 to volunteer in Africa, Asia, or Latin America with a 12 or 8-month challenge.

Three people stood in a jungle smiling for the camera

Lorcan during his gap year volunteering with Project Trust in Thailand.